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April 27, 2020

Although educational research was in its infancy in the early decades of the twentieth century there was sufficient concern and curiosity from both teachers and universities as to the veracity of whole word methods versus phonics that a number of rudimentary studies were conducted.  The majority of these studies compared phonic and non-phonic approaches to the teaching of reading and had little concern with the actual programmes...

April 27, 2020

By 1955, the American academic elite had come to an almost universal conclusion: phonics was dangerous. In that year the most eminent publication on reading instruction, ‘The Reading Teacher’ in its editorial penned by the ‘distinguished’ (Terman and Walcutt, 1958 p110) Emmett Betts concluded that children taught by a phonics approach ‘can call words but cannot read…’ (1955, p2).  Phonics instruction was almost completely discar...

April 27, 2020

Huey’s (1908) ‘scientific’ proof that phonic instruction was a superfluous, torpid stage of reading development resulted in a revival of whole-word reading methods.  Phonics was not entirely expunged from reading education but was exiled to the peripheries of instruction as a post facto analytical intervention.  Along with Dewey’s influential environment-driven approach to child learning, the course away from early phonics instr...

April 27, 2020

Edmund Burke Huey was the most influential writer on reading instruction in the twentieth century.  His bestselling ‘The Psychology and Pedagogy of Reading’ (1908) stopped the phonic method of teaching in its tracks.  His pedagogical alliance with John Dewey has probably done more harm to children attempting to learn how to read English than any other development in reading instruction.  Their legacy still reverberates to this d...

April 27, 2020


In April 1967, Kenneth Goodman presented his landmark paper at the American Educational Research Association.  ‘Reading: A Psycholinguistic Guessing Game’ (Goodman, 1967) was the culmination of five years of research and took the world of reading instruction by storm.  It has been reprinted in eight anthologies, is his most widely cited work and stimulated myriad of research into similar models of reading.  The aftershocks for...

April 27, 2020

The word method of teaching reading dominated instruction methods for a century with its word lists and flash cards and repeated vocabulary and culminated in the seemingly rational mutation into Goodman’s (1971) whole language approach.  It was only the glaring, incontrovertible fact that the millions of children taught by this method were unable to read that finally brought this edifice crashing down – 60% of Californian nine a...

April 27, 2020

However, confused and ineffective the teaching of reading had become in the United States in the nineteenth century, at least there was national debate, rudimentary research and a desire to find the pedagogical El Dorado.  No such national debate occurred in Britain at this time. The enlightenment experiment of the United States that saw a well-educated and literate populace as a fundamental driver of democra...

April 27, 2020

‘It is not perhaps, very important that a child know the letters before he begins to read.  It may learn first to read words by seeing them, hearing them pronounced, and having their meanings illustrated, and afterwards it may learn to analyse them or name the letters of which they are composed.’  Thus, wrote Worcester in 1828.  These words, so prescient in terms of the direction that English reading instruction would take in Am...

April 27, 2020

If in England, the development of a system of teaching reading to the masses was a historic catalogue of failure then in America, the situation was no different.  Similarly driven by the Lutheran revolution which demanded access to sacred texts and was further intensified by feelings of persecution after the exodus from the intolerance of the old world, the conflation of reading instruction with religious ideology was even more...

April 27, 2020

The worrying levels of illiteracy in England has its roots in a system of teaching reading that was heavily biased against the masses; a flawed system that still has hold and resonates in schools today. 

Since Quintilian instruction, the alphabet had been the starting point for reading tuition and the learning of the letters, a crucial foundation of that instruction (Graham and Kelly, 2015).  This alphabetic m...

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